Fidel Castro’s Prison Letters – a Revolution Inscribed from Incarceration

If the ‘History Will Absolve Me Trial’ was the stage for Fidel Castro’s oratory skills, the prison letters are valuable historic documents that shed light on the revolutionary and thinker, who paved the way for revolution from a cell in the prison on the Isles of Pines.

On October 16, 1953, Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in prison for orchestrating the Moncada Barracks attack. (Pictured is Castro on his arrest in July 1953 following the attack). Not one resigned to defeat, Fidel sought the opportunity to further his cause and coordinate strategy for the next phase of the revolution.

In a meticulous manner which was also seething with passion for a cause, he sought to portray the injustices of the Batista regime (Fulgencio Batista, President of Cuba 1940 to 1944, and 1952 to 1959), the illegitimacy of the presidency, compassion for the fallen revolutionaries at Moncada, and political propaganda aimed at enhancing his philosophy. His gift for erudition left Batista’s torture tactics on the sidelines. If anything, the trial had served to forward Fidel’s name to the people, the majority of whom sought or yearned for the end of the tyrannical regime.

It is evident that Fidel’s knowledge and craving for books can hardly be satiated. His letters are replete with quotes from authors and poets, metaphors alluding to suffering and justice, and other philosophical thoughts stemming from literature. A letter to his sister discusses the methodical planning of his library and the necessity of having his books in order. Jose Marti, Cuban poet and revolutionary, is quoted above all others. For Fidel, Marti is the epitome of revolution and the author of the Cuban revolution as well.

“The Blood of My Dead Brothers”

Through letters written to trusted friends and family members, Fidel’s intricate planning of the revolution began to take shape. Moving from tumultuous anger to methodical planning, many of the letters sent to Luis Conte Aguero (a close friend of Castro who deserted the revolution in its early stages) contain references to the torture inflicted on the captured companeros at Moncada. “With the blood of my dead brothers, I write you this letter; they are the only motive that inspires me.” Following a detailed explanation of the fallacy inherent in the justice system, Fidel discusses the fear that has gripped the nation, finally urging Aguero to “Denounce the crimes; here is a duty! … Here is a formidable and revolutionary step ahead!” For the revolution to be successful, it was necessary that the nation be aware of the cause and its philosophy.

In his letter to Melba Hernandez, Fidel discusses strategy and planning to reach to Cubans and transmit the philosophy of the revolution to the nation. He explains the necessity of dispelling the notion of fear, together with advising patience when confronted with enemies. “There will be enough time later to squash all the cockroaches together.”

“I have suffered the unjustifiable and unforgivable absence of my son”

In the letters to his sisters, Fidel’s personality is further revealed. There is no underestimation of those closest to him – the driving force in every relationship was unwavering loyalty towards him and the revolution. Increasingly, Fidel declared his fighting spirit would not be tarnished by those seeking to undermine him. His wife, Mirta Diaz Balart, had accepted assistance from the Batista government to sustain her and her son. For Fidel, it was an ultimate betrayal and he sought to put it down to an act of conspiracy against him – a calculated manipulation to tarnish his name and undermine the revolution, until it was proven otherwise.

Following a possibly intentional mixed up delivery of letters, in which Mirta was given a letter which Fidel had written to Naty Revuelta, a custody battle loomed ahead. Fidel was willing to fight for sole custody while serving his 15 year prison sentence. Compromise was never an option. “I have suffered the unjustifiable and unforgivable absence of my son with the same resolve with which I shall rescue him at any cost. … I presume they know by now that to rob me of the boy they will have to kill me. And not even then.”  The strong sentiments expressed in these words also portray Fidel’s patience in the face of adversity – a virtue that, in the following years of his rule, would exasperate many of his adversaries to the point of acting in exactly the way he predicted.

The letters may be regarded as a political philosophy framework, especially with regard to the justice system in Cuba under Batista. The annihilation of any opposition resulted in an orgy of torture and killings sanctioned by the regime. Haydee Santamaria, a revolutionary who had been captured after the Moncada Barracks attack, was presented with her brother’s eyes, gouged out by one of the torturers, Eulalio Gonzales. Her fiancé was murdered later that evening. Other revolutionaries who had become dispersed and later rounded up on the outskirts on Santiago de Cuba were subjected to the torture of digging their own graves prior to being murdered. “Put your sympathies in the services of truth and justice even more, without the fear of reaching a sacrifice upon solid foundations,” Fidel instructed Aguero.

Following and expanding on ‘History Will Absolve Me’, the anomalies in the justice system are expounded upon. Fidel did not expect the possibility of change and acknowledged the fact that under Batista, the participants in the slaughter of revolutionaries would go unpunished, with the regime’s blessing of moral impunity. A pattern had emerged through the slaughter and Fidel expounded upon it. The revolutionaries had suffered the same fate of the Cubans who had dared to defy Batista. The revolution had embraced a common ground.

Ramona Wadi

See also Ramona’s brief resume of Fidel Castro’s life.

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